Friday, September 25, 2015

"No doubt, it is relatively easy to identify those modes of contemporary information technology whose stupefying, anti-social consequences render worthy of abolition. But there are other technologies that are perhaps not so easily abolished. Consider antivirals. Every aspect of their development is implicated in capitalist institutions and enveloped by its social forms. Does this mean antivirals are intrinsically capitalist and hence ought to play no role in a post-capitalist society? A negative response recommends itself here: while technological function is socially mediated and enveloped by the value form, this need not be a saturated mediation: it need not exhaust the functional potentialities of the technology in question. Some might retort that talk of repurposing is a distraction at best, an alibi for reformism at worst, because the development of antivirals (like every other contemporary technology) is necessarily linked to that of capitalist social relations, the proliferation of lethal viruses being a direct consequence of industrialised livestock production and globalisation. Were it not for these two factors, the objection goes, we would not be so susceptible to increasing varieties of pathogens and human welfare would not be mortgaged to the development of antivirals. The dismantling of capitalism, according to this line of argument, would radically diminish if not wholly eliminate our increasing dependence on antivirals as well as other technological artefacts.

"Now, it is undoubtedly true that there is a direct correlation between the proliferation of life-threatening viruses and the conditions of globalised capitalist society. It may also be true that dismantling the latter is the surest means of eradicating the former. And there is no doubt that the redistribution of antivirals on the basis of need rather than wealth is a more pressing political concern than speculating on their role in post-capitalist society. Nevertheless, the urgency of the former does not obviate the importance of the latter. The absolute or indeterminate negation of capitalist society and all its works would eradicate the pathologies generated by capitalism only at the cost of cancelling the emancipatory potentials latent in technologies whose functioning is currently subordinated to capital. The abstract negation of functional context is also the negation of emancipatory possibilities whose release depends upon the re-contextualisation of function. Such abstraction in-determines instead of determining the fusion of cognitive and practical orientation required for the realisation of communism. It abolishes the capitalist present at the cost of cancelling the post-capitalist future locked up within it. Foreclosing the future, blinkered negation cannot but wish to re-instate the past. It becomes the longing for a previous state of things: ‘If only we hadn’t domesticated animals and started down the road to industrialised agriculture; if only we didn’t live in a massively interconnected global society...’ And ultimately: ‘If only capitalism hadn’t happened.'

"But Marx’s starting point is the acknowledgement that capitalism has happened, and given this premise, his fundamental question is: how can we move beyond capitalism without regressing to pre-capitalist social formations, such as agrarian feudalism? The problem of repurposing cannot be circumvented by wishing capitalism had never happened. History suggests that there are things worse than the value form. A suitably abstract conception of function will allow for its transplantation, and where necessary, repurposing, across social contexts. It goes without saying that this should only be envisaged as a consequence of overcoming the capital relation, not a substitute for this overcoming. More generally, determination is not constitution. We have to find a way to articulate theoretical and social abstraction that does not involve the complete or indiscriminate relinquishment of the achievements of capitalist modernity en bloc." - Ray Brassier, "Wandering Abstraction"